‘Not a shred of evidence’: Boris Johnson ‘very much’ looking forward to partygate grilling by MPs

Politics

Boris Johnson has said he accepts he misled parliament over partygate but insists his statements were “in good faith”.

In his evidence to the privileges committee, published on Tuesday, the former prime minister accused it of having gone “significantly beyond its terms of reference”.

He added that it was “unprecedented and absurd” to claim that relying on assurances from “trusted advisers” was “in some way reckless”.

The committee launched its probe in the wake of Sue Gray’s partygate report, which blamed a “failure of leadership and judgement” for the lockdown-busting parties that took place in No 10 during the COVID pandemic.

It offered a damning indictment of the culture that existed at the heart of government at a time when the rest of the country was ordered to follow strict social distancing guidelines.

Mr Johnson said he accepts the House of Commons “was misled by my statements that the Rules and Guidance had been followed completely at No. 10.”

He added: “But when the statements were made, they were made in good faith and on the basis of what I honestly knew and believed at the time”.

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For many MPs, the picture painted by Ms Gray’s report came in stark contrast to the previous assurances Mr Johnson had given about there being no rule-breaking in Downing Street.

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer subsequently tabled a motion in the House of Commons calling for an investigation into whether the-then prime minister had misled parliament, which MPs voted in favour of.

Mr Johnson conceded in his evidence that his statements to parliament “did not turn out to be correct”, but insisted he corrected the record at “the earliest opportunity”.

‘No evidence I intentionally misled the House’

He added: “There is no evidence at all that supports an allegation that I intentionally or recklessly misled the House”.

“There is not a single document that indicates that I received any warning or advice that any event broke or may have broken the Rules or Guidance,” his statement said.

In an interim report into its investigation published earlier this month, the committee said the evidence it had gathered “strongly suggests” it would have been “obvious” to Mr Johnson that COVID rules were being breached at Downing Street gatherings he attended.

It said it had identified at least four occasions where Mr Johnson may have misled MPs, which will form the backbone of its investigation.

The first instance was when Mr Johnson told MPs in December 2021 that no rules or guidance had been broken – when subsequent investigations by Ms Gray and the Met Police found otherwise.

The second occasion came when the former prime minister failed to tell the Commons about his own knowledge of gatherings where the rules or guidance had been broken, when evidence showed he had been present at some of them.

Thirdly, the committee said MPs may have been misled when Mr Johnson claimed on 8 December 2021 he had been given “repeated assurances” that rules were not broken.

However, these assurances only applied to one event on 18 December 2020 and not to compliance with the rules and guidance more generally.

Finally, the committee said Mr Johnson gave the impression that he could only answer MPs’ questions once the investigation by Ms Gray had determined whether rules or guidance had actually been broken.

“While repeatedly making that statement to the House he appears to have had personal knowledge he did not reveal,” the committee said.

As well as being required to be truthful to parliament at all times, MPs are also encouraged to correct the record at the earliest opportunity if they have inadvertently said something wrong.

The committee said in its interim findings that Mr Johnson “did not use the well-established procedures of the House” to correct the record, as is convention.

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